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Down There on a Visit

3.97  ·  Rating Details ·  478 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
Christopher Isherwood originally intended Down There on a Visit to be part of The Lost, the unfinished epic novel that would also incorporate his famous Berlin Stories. Tracing many of the same themes as that earlier work, this novel is a bemused, sometimes acid portrait of people caught in private sexual hells of their own making. Its four episodes are connected by four n ...more
Hardcover, 1st Edition, 318 pages
Published 1962 by Simon and Schuster
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Jul 22, 2015 Sketchbook rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Herr Isyvoo's best is "The Last of Mr. Norris" aka "Mr Norris Changes Trains," 1935. But he can thank playwright John van Druten for giving him a goldmine that steadily enriches his estate. Pretty much unknown here, his name became familiar w the play "I Am a Camera" (1951), based on his Berlin Stories by van Druten. In 1966, it became the smash musical (and soon movie) "Cabaret" -- and, lo, gold rained down on Adelaide Drive in Santa Monica Canyon where Ish lived.

You see, for some writers, mos
Jan 26, 2014 J. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
... She is the sort of monster who is often miscalled a good sport. The most monstrous thing about her is her good humor. She never pouts or sulks. She is always cheerful; and as tactless as an elephant.
Seems like whether you like this will depend on what you think it is. It's not a short story collection, or four separate novellas, or a connected four-part concoction that only makes sense when you get to the bottom line.

Even if you're ready for some loose, multi-form story-blending (ala Goo
Dec 11, 2012 Scot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book on a table of throwaways, brought it home, and read it. I lack the insight to understand why some people choose to keep some of the things they do and throw away things like this. If it was left with the hope that someone would come and enjoy it then I say “thank you”; I appreciate the gift.

Anyone who liked Isherwood’s Berlin Stories will probably appreciate parts of this collection that blends memoir with roman a clef, though I suspect that different people will be drawn to
I was already rereading this for a paper when it gained unfortunate relevance. Still too good.

It's a rare memoir that grows with its author. The minutely shifting styles across "Mr. Lancaster," "Ambrose," "Waldemar," and "Paul" mirror Isherwood--or Christopher's--own development. Early on, Isherwood looks back on young Christopher, setting out for Germany (and not even Berlin) for the first time:
I think about him and I marvel, but I must beware of romanticizing him. I must remem
Michael Flick
Roman à clef made up of 4 novellas all with the narrator "Christopher"--hard not to get that "key." But it's a Christopher who "is almost a stranger to me. ...We still share the same skeleton, but its outer covering has altered so much that I doubt he would recognize me on the street. We have in common the label of our name, and a continuity of consciousness; there has been no break in the sequence of daily statements that I am I. But what I am has refashioned itself through the days and years, ...more
Oct 22, 2012 Mia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: europe, favorites
So, I picked up this book a year or two ago and absolutely loved its first story. Then, for some reason unknown to me, I set it aside and only got back to it a month ago as I was heading to Berlin because, what else would one read there, right?

Right. I re-read the beginning and was even more enthralled by Isherwood's amazing ability to say complex things in a very simple yet elegant manner, he reminded me of reading Hemingway's Moveable Feast in some ways (a book I also regard as one of my all-t
Dec 05, 2016 Gina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It really wasn't bad. I just know Isherwood can be so much better. It has been maybe a month or so since reading this book, and already I am forgetting some of the 'stories' included in this collection (this is a novel, but in form it feels more like a short story collection).

The one I found particularly memorable was the very first - the emotional revelations of Isherwood in his youth (as well as his reflections on these revelations as a grown adult) did not read as dated. Unfortunately, the sa
Richard Jespers
Jul 30, 2016 Richard Jespers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I first read this novel in 1980 on my way back from a trip to Europe. I marked very little, and, frankly, I don’t think I understood much of what Isherwood was talking about. I hadn’t yet studied literature in depth. I hadn’t studied Buddhism or the act of meditation. It meant little to me. This reading seemed richer, especially in light of the fact that I’ve read almost all the author’s works including his thousand-page Diaries, Volume One, 1939-60.

One of the main characters of Isherwood’s nove
Karen M
Jul 02, 2015 Karen M rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads, own, fiction, ww2
This was my first Christoper Isherwood book and if the rest of his books are half as good I can't wait to read them. He, as the narrator, paints portraits of four men who are completely different and yet affect his life.

Mr. Lancaster leads a quiet, lonely, regimented, unhappy life. He unexpectedly invites a very distant connection to visit him in Germany just before WWII. The connection is our narrator who isn't related by blood but by marriage. Lancaster mourns for a lost love in secret and Chr
Bob Bush
Feb 27, 2013 Bob Bush rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Down There on a Visit" is an engaging work that takes you into the lives of Gay/Bisexual men through their relationships with Christopher, the narrator, starting in 1933 and ending in 1953 – in the mist of European Politics, the Nazi terror, the War and Post-War era. While leading the way in presenting Gay Men in print, the book seems bound by the constraints of the times, as the lives of these gay men seem to be tragic and without meaningful futures. Most appear and then die young or just disa ...more
I enjoyed this in-between-genres work, which tells of the years leading up to and after WWII through Isherwood's relationships with 4 main characters. Though the first of the four distinct sections is the least memorable, the book gathers power as it progresses and manages (as Isherwood always excels at) to shine with humor even in painful or unappealing moments. The Ambrose and Paul sections are the most thoroughly developed, allowing the tragedies of these characters to resonate within the lar ...more
Aug 11, 2013 Terry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Love Isherwood, but this is one I missed when I went through his books 20 years ago. Some say it's his best, but I prefer The Berlin Stories. Down There on A Visit covers 1933 to 1953 or thereabouts, so it's the dread-filled years leading up to WWII, the war itself and then the postwar years. It's very autobiographical and really reads like a diary much of the time, but it's beautifully written, very perceptive about character (including the author's) and revelatory of the lives of gay men in th ...more
Aug 08, 2013 Darren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What luxury to have this book for company during my holiday. His travels, encounters and insights dwarf my own, but who cares? Isherwood is an exciting, even-handed and witty friend you can live through vicariously.

The 4 long short stories that make up this novel are mostly autobiographical, and what I admire most is how he never lets himself off the hook - he doesn't apply hindsight, or condemn those he didn't condemn at the time. He seems often much fairer about Waldemar, Ambrose and Paul than
Sophia Stuart
Nov 29, 2013 Sophia Stuart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
ah, Isherwood.

the transforming experience of southern california on a boy from England his floppy public school haircut still hanging lost over his eye - and that is how Isherwood comes to write - from this position alone.

and this book?

a quote says it all:

“Suppose I have in my power an army of five million men. I can destroy it instantly by pressing an electric button. The five millionth man is Waldemar. Will I press that button? No, of course not, even if the four million, nine hundred and ni
Sep 01, 2015 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Best book of the summer, so far. In the wake of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage, I have used Isherwood to reflect on the changes, thank God, in our public opinion. Set in Berlin and L.A. In the 50's, this is a fairly autobiographical story about what it was like to be a gay man in those places and era. Isherwood has some brilliant passages: "tomorrowlessness," what it was like just before WWII began to be in Germany and have thoughts about the future of society knocked ar ...more
Nov 08, 2011 Alvin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Isherwood's crisp, clear language, his flair for storytelling, and his keen eye for the details of eccentric personalities are all on display here in great abundance. Of course he's maddeningly reticent about divulging details concerning the love that dare not speak its name, but the book was written a long time ago. My favorite parts concerned Weimar Germany and an eccentric old poofter on a Greek isle, but Isherwood's such a terrific writer I even enjoyed the end of the book, where he delves i ...more
Karen Wellsbury
I am revisiting some of the books I have already read, and this book holds a special place for me. My family lived in Germany for a while, and I went to stay in Berlin with a friend, prior to the wall coming down. This book reminds me of that time, although I was there in 1987 and these stories are set in the 20's, 30's + 40's.
Christopher Isherwoods writing is so distilled and he packs so much emotion into everything - its evocative of a different time, but still contemporary in the way that he
Read this in 2015? but forgot to record it both in my journal and my brain because i read half of it thinking, gee this sounds familiar..before i realized why!!! i finished Ambrose before i decided yes! i read this! I loved the lines in the first story Mr. Lancaster :" I knew with sudden intense force, just how awful the Odyssey and the voyage of the Pequod must have been, and that i would have sooner or later jumped overboard rather than listen to either of those ghastly sea bores, Ulysses and ...more
Jul 27, 2013 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this semi-fictionalized autobiography, reminding me very much of Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, Isherwood struggles with finding meaning in his own life while constantly gazing through the lens of his companions. It's a fascinating exploration of character, history, spirituality, and loneliness. Isherwood's writing is clear and purposeful, there not just to tell you but to help you understand. This is the first book I've read of Christopher Isherwood's, but it certainly won't be the last. High ...more
Narrator: not interesting.
Paul: very interesting.
Author: gay (! yay! for representation in fiction!)
Author: misogynistic (...just kidding.)

Overall: liked the writing when he wasn't going on rants about how women should just be delegated to breeding farms and men should have the entire world in which to be gay and frivolous, but disappointed in general about his existence. Go ahead if you can separate the artist from the art, but when the artist's rather barbaric ideas about women pervade every
David Corvine
As with Goodbye to Berlin this isn't so much a novel as a collection of fictionalized autobiographical pieces. The unifying element being the character Waldemar, however, in real life he wasn't a single person but a series of German youths. For me the Ambrose section was the most interesting, it is loosely based on Isherwood's stay on the island of Saint Nikolas with Francis Turville-Petrie who was attempting to establish a homosexual anarchist commune there.
Matthew Allard
Oct 13, 2011 Matthew Allard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I definitely liked this four-part journey through Isherwood's personal history. The middle two parts—"Ambrose" and "Waldemar"—dragged the most. "Paul" was my favorite, as it finally transported us to California, and I enjoyed the glimpses of '40s Los Angeles through Christopher's eyes. As a whole, I thought the book was really honest and nostalgic.

May 07, 2008 Andy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gay-lesbian
Christopher Isherwood defines several phases of his life through the men he befriended and loved in this book. My favorite phases are the Berlin (aka "Cabaret") period and also his wartime-era Hollywood period. His friendship with a gay prostitute who falls for Eastern religion in the Forties when both were swept under the carpet makes for fascinating reading.
Dec 06, 2015 Les rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As others have said, more autobiographical sketches than a novel. As such, there isn't much of a plot because nothing much happens across the four "episodes." But the four featured characters Isherwood encounters are all interesting (though not necessarily likable) in their different ways, and his writing is particularly fine.
Donovan Lessard
One of Isherwood's lesser known novels, but definitely worth a read. Isherwood's voice is so present, without being forced or overly stylized. The novel slows down quite a bit at about the 2/3rds point, but is ended beautifully and poignantly. Overall, I can't believe that anyone could read this book and not wish to have at least had lunch with Isherwood at some point while he was alive.
David Kresner
Feb 12, 2012 David Kresner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's wonderful to re-enter Isherwood's world. In the midst of reading I saw "Chris and Don: A Love Story". Really touching 30 something year relationship that defied everyones' expectations.The mashup of novelized autobiography that is a lot of Isherwood's work always fascinates me and this book didn't disappoint.
Jul 10, 2014 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4 different stories relating to certain individuals that Christopher Isherwood crosses paths with before, during, and after WW2 and in different places. The most interesting story is the last one given it was during the era Isherwood was exploring Eastern Spirituality and was working in Hollywood.
Lord Beardsley
Aug 21, 2012 Lord Beardsley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, read2012
My personal love affair with Mr. Isherwood continues in this series of stories revolving around four of his "lost" ones. Each portrait is illuminating and heart-breaking, sprinkled with a good dose of humour and compassion.

A picture perfect illustration of a world with a past...
Jul 10, 2016 Mason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thoroughly charming jaunt through Christopher Isherwood's 20s, 30s, and 40s. The writing is breezy and familiar in the best way, as if narrated by a dear friend hoping to fill you in on what you missed while you were away.
Aug 19, 2014 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Christopher Isherwood. His dry style reminds me of William S Bourroughs. He has lived a fascinating life and tells it well.
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Christopher Isherwood was a novelist, playwright, screen-writer, autobiographer, and diarist. He was also homosexual and made this a theme of some of his writing. He was born near Manchester in the north of England in 1904, became a U.S. citizen in 1946, and died at home in Santa Monica, California in January 1986.

Isherwood was the grandson and heir of a country squire, and his boyhood was privile
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“His life has been lived, so far, within narrow limits and he is quite naïve about most kinds of experience; he fears it and yet is wildly eager for it. To reassure himself, he converts it into epic myth as fast as it happens. He is forever play-acting.” 11 likes
“Most of the time, thank goodness, we suffer quite stupidly and unreflectingly, like the animals.” 1 likes
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